OK, this one has been a long time coming. 2 months in fact! But then again, I did need to get a japanese 3DS to play it and then progress far enough to get a decent feel for the game but we’re here now. This weeks post is a review of Project X zone on the 3DS
Now, before we begin, I should say that this is not going to be a “mini” review. I’ve noticed that the game hasn’t really had much coverage since its release and there’s not really any explanation on how the game actually plays. This might be because every news outlet knows something we don’t and a western release is on the horizon, but I have my doubts for reasons I’ll get into later. But what that means for is that this post is going to be rather long and wordy! I’ll try and pad it out with some pics but there’s such a dearth of pics on the net, aside from the stuff collected by andriasang.com that I had to take some myself using my trusty cameraphone (ergo, they suck!)
You might want to get into a comfy chair and have a hot cup of good tea handy as well…
OK? Here we go! Project X zone is a direct sequel to Namco X Capcom, a Strategy RPG which was released on the PS2 and combined many characters from various games from the 2 companies, spanning right down to some of their earliest titles. The game also tried to do something different by giving you limited control of your characters during the attack and defence phase. You needed to input basic button presses to launch attacks and, by careful timing, combo them together for bonus effects. Project X Zone continues in a similar trend but adds Sega into the mix as well as a good helping of another game which was developed by monolith soft… The game occasionally references the events of NxC, especially between characters who made it into both games and certain stages from NxC are lifted wholesale and placed into Project X Zone, so it’s pretty safe to say that this is a direct sequel. But for now, lets get into the meat of the game.
First, we’ll get the cast out of the way. There are 2 types of units which are available to you in the game. The first is a pair unit, which are the ones which you will have direct control over. Each pair unit consists of 2 characters (obviously) who can be moved around the map and have items equipped. Each company provides characters for 6 pair units each with a new pair of original characters and the main characters of Namco X Capcom, Arisu Reiji and Xiaomu, taking another 2 pair unit slots.
The second unit type is the solo unit. Unlike in Namco X Capcom, where there was nothing to distinguish between a solo and pair unit, in Project X Zone Solo units must be attached to a pair unit to take part and cannot do anything on their own. If you want a complete list of characters available, you can check out the wiki page for the game.
As for the selection roster, the companies chose to stick with some of their most recent titles with only a few exceptions but each one comes from a very famous series so there’s no “who the hell is that?” moment like there is in Namco X Capcom (Did anyone who played NxC know of wondermomo, bravoman or kagekiyo before they started?) The only exception might be Valkyrie from the legend of Valkyrie. But she plays a big part in the humour of the game so she passes!
Before each stage, you are taken to an intermission screen where you can save your game, equip certain items to units as well as work on your units by experimenting with different unit combinations. Some Solo units don’t play well with some pair units. Initially, you will have gaps but when you complete the full roster, each pair unit can have a solo unit assigned.
Once you get to the main battle stage, things start to look familiar. You’re presented with a 3D map with a fixed viewpoint. From there, each unit on the map is designated a turn which is decided mostly by their speed stat (which can be augmented by skills and equipped items). You move units directly using the circle pad and your maximum allowed movement is shown in dark blue. While on the map, you can come across destructible items and chests which can be opened or removed by pressing “Y”. Unlike in NxC, this does not end your turn and that change is massively welcome! In NxC, using a unit to obtain items usually meant sending them far away from battle and wasting a turn getting it. With PxZ, you can use units to get the item and get back into the fight quickly! Action points from NxC have been scrapped so once all units have ended their turn, the system resets so there’s a definite turn end here, as opposed to NxC where they all merged into 1 and you could get units to skip up the wait list.
While still able to move around, you can bring up a menu which allows you to save the game mid-battle (though you are limited to 1 save here), use items or skills on your unit. Items are used mainly to heal your units or raise your special bar, which I’ll get to in a bit. Skills allow you to buff up or heal your units and each skill costs a certain amount of special bar. The more powerful the spell, the more it consumes. For the most part, you don’t need to worry too much about them, aside from the heal spells and speed increase. One other skill you need to keep an eye on is the one which allows your characters to move a few more spaces than usual. This is expecially important as a later stage requires you to defeat a number of enemies before they reach a certain part of the map and you CANNOT get to them without said skill!
The special bar in PxZ is called the cross gauge and is filled with cross points, confusingly called XP here. Experience points are labelled as EXP. XP are gained by beating up enemies or using up items and almost everything in the game bar moving, using items and basic attacks uses a certain amount of XP. Defence uses it, Skills uses it. the super moves of the pair units use 100 XP and the multiple assault attacks (moves which hit more than one enemy at a time) also uses them! Furthermore, in a rather boneheaded design choice, you only have 1 XP bar for your entire team! So if you have 100XP and decide to use them all on a super attack, your next unit will have 0XP (and not defend if they get attacked). This does mean that enemies can repeatedly pound a single unit until they are unable to defend due to lack of XP and kill them… This is, thankfully, rare but it can happen.
Still with me? Good! Next up, we’ll talk about the attacks. There are 2 types of attacks available in the game. The first is when your unit attacks a single enemy. This is shown as yellow blocks when you move your unit. The second is when the attack can take on multiple enemies (up to 4) and is shown as a light blue block. The multiple assault moves, however, uses up XP and will not become selectable until you have 100XP. Furthermore, units need to learn their respective Multiple assault attack and some don’t get theirs until quite late into the game.
Most of your damage will be done with the regular attacks and the system takes a few pages from NxC but the vast bulk of the combat system takes its cues from Endless Frontier: Super Robot Wars OG Saga on the DS. If you’ve played that game, you’ll feel right at home. If not, basically, units can have up to 5 attacks corresponding to the “A” button and a direction on the circle/d-pad. Each attack is a short combo which is automatically done and every move has one of 2 properties; Knockback and floater.
Knockback attacks throw the enemy to the wall, where they bounce back and floaters are where they are launched into the air. As they come back, you can time your attacks to continue the assault and prevent them from touching the ground. This is important because later enemies have shields which need to be broken before you can inflict damage. Once broken, they will roll with your punches but if they touch the ground again, the shield returns so you need to break it all over again.
It’s kinda hard to explain with words so here’s a short video which should explain things a little better.
Now, remember the solo units which you could attach to your pair units? They are mapped to the “L” button on the 3DS and you can call them to attack once per attack phase. You can use them as an additional attack after you have spent your attack points but you can also call them in while you are doing your main attacks. This is the better option as, if both units attack the enemy at the same time, you score a cross hit, which is shown as a green X icon. The cross hit will freeze the enemy in place so they won’t move as you hit them but it also increases the amount of XP you gain and furthermore, it’s the only way to get more than 100XP. with cross hits, you can get up to 150 total XP and that can come in very handy! On the down side, your timing has to be very good because if you miss, the enemy unit won’t stop and you could also end up freezing them high above your units where their attacks cannot reach effectively!
Here’s another video explaining cross hit
Furthermore, if you position your attacking unit next to an ally, your ally can also join in and perform an attack like the solo units. Your pair units also have a super attack which can be performed when you have more than 100XP. This needs to be done at the end of the turn though, as your move immediately ends upon completion of the move, so you can’t do a combo afterwards to raise your XP again.
Here’s a longer video which shows off multiple assault, a full cross hit combo with solo unit and ally unit as well as a super move.
still with me? Nearly there! The only thing left now is the defence options. I’m just going to leave this to another video but basically, any action will cost a certain amount of XP. If you don’t have enough, your unit will take the full force of whatever attack the enemy does to you. Furthermore, some units and all boss units have super moves and multiple assault attacks like your units. these cannot be blocked. But on the plus side, everything is over really quickly so you don’t have to faff around with pressing the D-pad in a mini-game of “simon says” like in NxC.
Most stages follow a simple “kill everything” objective but there are a few which throw curveballs at you. Nothing major. They’re usually something like “reach character X and press “A” within Y amount of turns” but be aware of them. There are probably some guides on the net to help you if you get stuck but most are self explanatory.
That’s pretty much everything there is to the game… I think. How is it overall?
- In-jokes and references – I have no idea how localisation teams will be able to handle translations for some of these things but boy, did they put a smile on my face. The first one was when you get Kurt, Riela and Valkyrie into your team. The 3 meet in an underground cave after Riela and Kurt get teleported there. After a slightly awkward introduction where the 2 nameless introduce themselves by their numbers, despite valkyrie overhearing their names earlier. So, as a compromise, Valkyrie asks them to call her a number as well, 17. To most people, this means nothing but if I say that the voice of Valkyrie is Inoue Kikuko then, to anime fans who know her works, it has meaning! Valkyrie also says “saiyusen Jikou yo!” again, you need to be an anime fan to get the reference. But there’s plenty for gamer fans as well. In fact, there’s a cool little reference to the original Megaman X on the SNES (as well as another game) in the multiple assault by X and Zero. See if you can spot it!
A later stage also brings back a familiar face in the form of Iris from Megaman X4. She doesn’t do much but she does manage to throw zero out of the loop for a while.
- An active battle system which requires attention – for many SRPGs, it’s a matter of “tell unit to attack -> think of next move” so it’s really refreshing to have a system which forces you to pay attention and consider your moves more carefully. It makes it less automated!
- Seriously cool attacks! – some of these animations are a joy to watch.
- The music – Hearing remixes of the themes for the characters is also really fun. Especially when Tekken Tag theme or Zeros theme starts playing! I still prefer the battle theme for Xenosaga episode 1 though! But hearing Subarashii Shin Sekai is sweet!!!
- The Camera – this was an annoyance which was much larger than it should have been. Basically, because the maps are fully 3D, there are times when the camera angle prevents you from seeing what you are doing. Here’s an example.
- Artificially long stages – Later stages have nearly 100 units on screen at once. You’d think that would be cool but all it means is that you have a very large number of enemies to plow through and you can sometimes have to wait a long while between your moves while you wait for the AI to finish all its moves and attacks.
- Setting up your units… Again! – At certain parts of the game, your characters can get split into smaller teams with solo units going one way or another, depending on the story. This can wreak havoc on your unit setup as you may have spent ages moving units around until every pair unit has a solo unit which works with them and then suddenly, *poof* the units are split and you have to figure out something else with limited resources. And to add insult to injury, when the paths combine again, you need to put your original setup back manually!!!
- Missing some big titles – No Soul Calibur from Bamco?
- Single XP gauge for the entire team! – This is just annoying and stupid. Particularly since super moves take a huge chunk of the gauge and yet are the only real way to inflict any serious damage on boss units. It just ends up dragging the fight. I would have preferred to have seen individual XP gauges for each unit but made them harder to fill or certain moves to cost more.
Overall though, I can’t really complain. The game is lots of fun but it does feel like Monolith soft fixed many of the annoyances of Namco X Capcom but replaced them with new issues instead. The single XP gauge really irked me but overall, it’s just great to watch these random mashups smacking things around! Veterans of previous monolith soft games may be glad (or dismayed) to hear that KOS-MOS has been severely nerfed in this game. She’s no longer the one unit map clearing weapon of death she was in NxC (seriously, she could stand toe to toe against most boss units! ALONE!!!). She still hits hard but her speed is quite low (though one of her skills increases it for one turn) and she doesn’t have a skill which allows her to move twice in one turn or have items which increase her MP like in NxC. Hell, she was stupidly powerful in Endless Frontier as well. Never take on a boss without her!! But in Project X Zone, she’s just very good!
Also, Wing Wanderer is a decent enough song but it doesn’t hold a candle to Subarashi Shin Sekai, the opening song for Namco X Capcom
It’s just a shame that Nintendo has chosen to keep such gems out of the reach of most western gamers by putting in region locks on the 3DS. I know there’s talk of a western release for the game and a part of me hopes it happens but I’m skeptical due to the licensing minefield the game is. Most of the units are fine but there are just a few which could cause headaches, such as Bruno from Dynamite Cop. That game was released here as Die Hard Arcade, so they might need to ask FOX for permission to use it. Sakura wars V is also licensed to NIS America and the Super robot Wars titles to Atlus USA. Now, they might be fine with the licenses and play ball or they may not. And it only takes one team to not play ball for the release to collapse. Legend has it, this is what happened when a company tried to bring Super Robot Wars alpha on the PS1 to the US. ADV held the license to Evangelion and sank the idea by asking for an extortionate amount of money to use the Evangelion license. Not sure if it’s true though.
Speaking of which, Yumeria and .Hack also have anime shows attached to them. God knows where the licenses to those are held, but I know they aren’t with Bandai! I’m not saying a release won’t happen, but I wouldn’t put my hopes up either. In any case, I’ve had the opportunity to play the game and I like it a lot! If other gamers get a chance to experience the game without having to import a whole new handheld, then I’m happy for them, but for now. I’m having a blast playing through the only release so far on my limited edition Char Aznable 3DS!